Fanny Fuentes-Phalon was at a crossroads. The Montclair resident was working in a private doctor’s office for 14 years when she was unexpectedly laid off.
“In a mix of unique circumstances including figuring out unemployment benefits and a quasi-midlife crisis, I decided to look into exploring a longtime passion of mine – vegan cooking,” she explains. “I was interested in going back to some of the basics of culinary cooking instruction.”
That search led her to CCM and a year after obtaining a certificate in both Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management and Event Planning, she’s running her own vegan restaurant, Mundo Vegan, in Montclair. The restaurant at 20 Church Street is co-owned by Fuentes-Phalon and her life and business partner Tracey Phalon.
The idea for a vegan restaurant came from the diet Fuentes-Phalon and Phalon both follow, which stemmed from a visit more than five years ago to an animal farm sanctuary near Woodstock, NY. Fuentes-Phalon says after learning more details about the harsh confinements animals experience in the animal agricultural system, she and Phalon didn’t want any more animals to be slaughtered or mistreated in their name.
When it came to her vegan lifestyle, Fuentes-Phalon received tremendous encouragement and creative freedom while receiving her training at CCM.
“That was one of the reasons why I enjoyed my time at CCM,” Fuentes-Phalon says. “It was a very positive experience.”
She says she never would have been confident enough to start her own restaurant without CCM. She gives praise to professors Robert Kern, Alicia Harris and Suzanne Lowery, with whom she has kept in touch with after obtaining her certificates. Kern, who taught her cost control class, took the time to come to Montclair and give Fuentes-Phalon advice when she was starting out. Lowery also featured Mundo Vegan on her njmonthly.com blog.
Fuentes-Phalon is eager to point out that Mundo Vegan has additional CCM connections other than her own. Jocelyn Hsu, who obtained her certificate in Culinary Arts from CCM, works at the restaurant.
“She’s been with us from the beginning and does a great job,” Fuentes-Phalon says of Hsu. “I consider her more than an employee; a friend and like family.”
The restaurant itself also has a CCM lineage, as Fuentes-Phalon and Phalon purchased Mundo Vegan when it was known as The Stock Pot, a popular lunch spot in Monctlair for more than 30 years and a restaurant that she and Phalon worked at 17 years ago. The man she purchased the restaurant from, Robert Kelly, was also a CCM student.
Fuentes-Phalon says that her clientele has been enthusiastic and supportive since opening Mundo Vegan’s doors.
She also says those who haven’t had a vegan meal in a while, or who have preconceived notions about what it tastes like, may be surprised when they come into the restaurant.
“There is a misconception that vegan and gluten-free food have to be bland and are tasteless,” Fuentes-Phalon says. “It’s the opposite. It’s extremely flavorful.”
Mundo Vegan is open Wednesday through Sunday every week. Its hours of operation, menu and more can be found at its website, http://www.mundovegannj.com/
. You can also visit its Facebook page at http://tinyurl.com/pzdsdl4
# # #Photo: County College of Morris (CCM) graduate Fanny Fuentes-Phalon, center, has opened Mundo Vegan restaurant in Montclair with co-owner Tracey Phalon, right. Fellow CCM graduate Jocelyn Hsu, left, also works at the restaurant.